leadership dot #2614: porters

I listened with fascination as a person I know recounted her journey to climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro – the highest mountain in Africa. It was an arduous journey but she made it all the way to the summit – thanks in large measure to those who accompanied her. The Tanzanian government recognized that the journey is difficult and dangerous so required each climber to be assigned five porters to help them.

What a beautiful model to follow when you are working on a difficult project on the ground. No one would consider climbing without a team –why do we assume that people will be able to achieve their goal alone instead of providing them with ample support? If you are the supervisor, you can instill it as a norm that challenging projects receive extra person-power to aid in completion. The mountain climbers would have never made it to the top without the assistance of the porters. Don’t leave your staff to navigate the heavy-lift without the resources to get there.

leadership dot #2604: prepare the surface

During a basement bedroom renovation project my contractor friend built a space precisely for an existing bookcase. He asked if I wanted the bookcase painted white. I said no. He asked again before he painted the walls around it. No. He made a third request before he put all the casing around it. No again.

Then my sisters came and were insistent that it “needed” to be white. And, in all matters of home décor, they are right (see Sunday’s dot) so white it was to be. Since I had declined three offers to paint it when it was easy to do, I took it upon myself to do the dirty work this time and spent my weekend with a paintbrush in hand.

I am by no means a DIY-er so I did not know that I first needed to “prepare the surface.” The result: all that beautiful paint I put on peeled right off — which meant that the casing had to be pulled off, the bookcase crowbarred out, moved outside to be stripped and then sanded – all before it could be painted white (again) and replaced, hopefully without damaging the installed carpet or finished walls around it. Ugh.

I think there is an organizational parallel to this fiasco. You may not want to take the time to “prepare the surface” (i.e. to onboard and be directive) for your new employees — preferring to jump right in with the appealing aspects of the job — but those background steps are what make long-term results possible. It seems much quicker to start with paint, but as I have come to learn the hard way, it’s the sanding and prepping that make it possible for the color to endure. You need to ensure that new employees are prepared to absorb what is truly important about your culture or all your good intentions could just peel away.

Trust me, it is a whole lot easier to do it right from the beginning.


leadership dot #2593: brain freeze

A local convenience store received a delivery of ice on a day with a heat index of 100 degrees. An outside delivery. Where the ice sat untouched the entire time I was in the store.

The one clerk that was moving another pallet of ice from outside into the freezer was called away – by the store manager no less – to help ring up customers.

I’m all for speedy service and not making people wait in line, but I’m more in favor of reasonable priorities. Those who buy that ice – assuming it’s still ice by the time it’s sold – will receive re-frozen lumps instead of cubes. Job 1 should have been to get it inside into the air-conditioning immediately, and having just three people in line shouldn’t have superseded getting it into the freezer.

I suspect the manager was so in the habit of calling for additional help when a line formed that she didn’t intentionally think about the decision she was making and the de facto priorities she was setting. But don’t have a similar brain freeze when you are called upon to direct your employees. What is important under one set of circumstances may be entirely wrong in another.


leadership dot #2551: responsible

Leaders are not responsible for the job. Leaders are responsible for the people that are responsible for the job.” – Simon Sinek

I believe Sinek’s premise. When you become a supervisor, you inherit not power and perks rather a deep sense of obligation to those under your wing. This sense of responsibility surprises some new supervisors and causes them to realize they could benefit from some help to grow into this new role.

Leaders must learn the content required for their position and the art of supervision itself as well as upping their own personal game to serve as a leader and role model to others. This can take many forms: becoming more conscious of their language, their attire, their social circles or work ethic. Leaders may wish to broaden their knowledge of the field and cultivate a more external focus. They need to develop new networks or acquire a coach to help them navigate tricky situations and politics – all in the name of improving their skills in order to enhance the work of others.

Just like the advice in airplanes where adults need to put on their oxygen mask first before helping others, so a supervisor must work to first strengthen their skill set before they can help others to flourish. What have you done lately to help yourself grow?

leadership dot #2546: marbles

If someone gave you a marble to hold, you could do so with ease. Ditto for a half-dozen but after that, it becomes more challenging. You’re likely to drop one or pay so much attention to holding on to them that you fail to see their beauty. Yet if someone gave you a bag to hold 100 marbles, you could manage to hang on to all of them without a problem.

Think about this analogy in the context of learning a new skill. If someone teaches you one or two or six things, you can get it. But pretty soon, without a context, those ideas start to roll around like loose marbles and you’re bound to forget some of them. Fortunately, with the right framework, you can collect hundreds of ideas and amass a host of skills — and manage to keep them all.

When you are providing content – whether through employee onboarding, teaching a workshop, parenting, or writing a blog – don’t focus solely on individual messages. Provide that “bag” to connect your information to the whole as a way to keep your listener from losing their marbles.

Thanks, bg!

leadership dot #2516: small stuff

I had an interesting conversation with someone who has just made a career change to become a Realtor. She described the extensive training that went into the process – courses online and in multiple cities, several tests and licensing in different jurisdictions.

I asked what surprised her and she had two answers: 1) that there was a lot of math, “as in a lot” and 2) when she finished, she still had not been taught how to do a listing. She could calculate the area of a plot of land and been tested on zoning regulations but was never shown how to put a property up for sale.

I think that our onboarding processes are sometimes like this – we get so caught up in explaining the big picture that we forget that new employees need to know the most mundane set of details as well: where do I get a key and ID, who do I call if I can’t make it into work, how do I buy things, what is the password for the computer, where do people eat lunch, etc. It is by understanding these small tasks that a new employee feels like they belong and are less of a rookie.

Even before they arrive, anticipate the questions a new staff member will have for Day 1: when should I arrive, where should I park, where should I go when I arrive, what is the typical dress code, what type of HR paperwork do I need to bring, do people eat lunch out or bring theirs in, etc.

If you find yourself in a new situation, the details are what help you build a solid foundation from which you can do the higher-level thinking. Don’t overlook the small stuff when welcoming someone new to your organization.

leadership dot #2463: ambivalent

In his book Originals, Adam Grant writes about “ambivalent relationships” – those where you are unsure of whether or not the person is supportive of you. “It takes more emotional energy and coping resources to deal with individuals that are inconsistent,” he writes. Grant says that you must remain constantly on guard in uncertain relationships – thus they are even more unhealthy for you than with negative relationships since there you know where you stand.

Nowhere is the ambivalence more stressful than when it occurs with your boss. If you are unsure that your supervisor has your back and will support you, much energy is wasted as you become tentative in your responses and stifle any creativity for fear of failure. Bosses who are like wheat – leaning one way then suddenly leaning another – cause much duplication and stress for those who must deal with the consequences.

Grant writes; “It is our instinct to sever bad relationships and salvage the ambivalent ones, but evidence suggests we ought to do the opposite.” The constant toll of being in limbo is more emotionally draining than writing off a known negative.

If you have a supervisor or colleague that is wavering in their support, maybe it’s time for you to pursue other options. Don’t be unequivocal about someone who is ambivalent toward you.